Always liked the idea of playing field hockey? Here’s some of the basics about hockey, how to get involved, and some of the fitness benefits it brings.

Playing hockey helps develop essential social skills like teamwork, communication and individual persistence, but also proves an enjoyable activity that builds up speed, hand-eye coordination and cardiovascular performance.

Hockey is played mainly in clubs, both by women and men. Many people grow up with hockey at school and it can offer a lifetime of both social and sporting opportunities for players, administrators and officials alike. However, clubs welcome new and inexperienced players who are willing to give hockey a go.

The aim of field hockey

The aim of hockey is quite simple — to use sticks to dribble, pass, and shoot the ball along the pitch in an effort to score goals. The rules are very similar to those of football except that players use sticks instead of their feet to move the ball. A goal counts as one point and is scored when the ball, having been hit by a player inside the 'striking circle' (also known as the ‘D’), completely crosses the opposing team’s goal line.

The 11 players on a team include a goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and attackers. The only player that is allowed to kick the ball with their feet or touch it with their hands is the goalkeeper. Hockey is played on a 91.4m x 55m (approximately 100yd x 60yd) pitch and each player has a stick which is about 1m (3.3ft) long, has a rounded head, and weighs about 340 to 790g (0.75 to 1.75lb).

Facts about field hockey

A hockey match usually lasts 70 minutes, made up of two halves of 35 minutes each. In Olympic competition, any match that ends in a draw goes to extra time (15 minutes in total if required). In extra time the first side to score a ‘golden goal’ wins, but if there is no goal within the extra 15 minutes, a penalty shootout results.

Men’s hockey entered the Olympic Games in 1908 and has been an event continuously since 1920. Women have competed at Olympic level since 1980. The name hockey is thought to have originated from the French word ‘hocquet’, meaning a crooked stick or shepherd’s crook.

The fitness benefits of playing field hockey

Hockey is a fast-paced sport that helps improve pace, agility and lower body strength. Here are some of hockey’s prime health and fitness benefits:

  • It helps reduce body fat. Playing hockey is a fun and effective way of burning off calories with its fast pace requiring short bursts of sprint energy, along with long-term stamina over the course of a match. The average hockey player is said to burn approximately 0.061 calories per minute, per pound of body weight (0.136 calories per minute, per kilo of body weight).

  • It helps develop the body’s cardiovascular system. The sustained energy and holistic muscular strength required in a hockey match help develop the body’s cardiovascular system. This system, made up of the heart and lungs, feeds muscles with oxygen. A stronger cardiovascular system will therefore improve both your breathing and general sports performance by pumping more oxygen around the body.

  • Hockey improves lower and upper body muscle strength. Playing hockey is a great way of developing your body’s leg muscles, including the hamstring, hips and calves. It also improves the endurance of shoulder muscles, triceps and forearms.

  • Hockey builds coordination skills. Hockey relies on good coordination between the eyes and the hands and improves the reflexes and reaction times of its players. Practising the game develops the body’s coordination abilities through quicker hand-eye reflexes and reactive, nimble feet.  

How to get involved in playing field hockey

There are plenty of clubs out there able to accommodate newcomers to the sport of hockey and many of these can be found by surfing the internet or contacting the governing bodies for the area in which you live.

Many of these clubs operate smaller versions of hockey such as mini-hockey, for beginners, or indoor hockey to build up player's skills and fitness. Then, once you’ve mastered the basics you can move onto the full scale version of the game by joining a fully-fledged hockey team.

Finding the right field hockey kit

Getting started in field hockey is relatively inexpensive with players requiring only a few essential items of kit.

  • The hockey stick. Clearly, different lengths of stick are required for male and female hockey players. It’s best to try a few out before buying the one that best suits your personal height. One side of the head of the hockey stick is always entirely flat and the other side is rounded.

  • The hockey ball. Hockey balls are easy to buy and are generally reasonably priced, made of cork and twine and covered with strong plastic. It might be an idea to get one for practising your skills on the lawn in the early days of your training.

  • Protective gear. Hockey can be a fast-paced and occasionally dangerous sport, with a hard ball often being hit with ferocious speed. It’s therefore a good idea to play safe and buy some protective gear such as shin pads and a mouth guard. They might just save your shins and teeth one day.

  • If you’re planning on becoming a hockey goalkeeper, extra kit is required such as a strong helmet and — for safety purposes — knee and shin pads, ankle pads, thick goalie gloves and stoutly protected footwear.